Is the Iraq War Losing Its Zingy Public Appeal?

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Frank Rich in the New York Times (evade the Times Select wall here at TruthOut) thinks the Iraq War is sadly losing out in the ratings:

You won't catch anyone saying it's Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks' evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring…

This is happening even as the casualties in Iraq, averaging more than 100 a day, easily surpass those in Israel and Lebanon combined…

The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn't happenstance. It's a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. "It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror," said Fox News's Bill O'Reilly on July 18. "I mean, it's summertime." Americans…know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out…

In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. It's a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot…

it's the collapse of the one remaining…motivation that still might justify staying the course in Iraq–as a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people–that is most revealing of what a moral catastrophe this misadventure has been for our country.

Of course, the Bush administration had lost the likes of Frank Rich from "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States…." but I think the news coverage data, if accurate, is telling. Still, if the American people are so sick of this war, where is politically effective force running against it? (Those hopped up on nedrenaline need not apply….) I fear even Mr. Rich will be disappointed this November (and probably in November 2008 as well) at exactly how much lack of interest in reading about or watching TV about the war translates into voting against it, to the extent we are even able to.

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  1. “Frank Rich in the New York Times (evade the Times Select wall here at TruthOut)”

    Isn’t this aiding and abetting theft of intellectual property?

  2. I for one am constantly amazed at how little disucssion there is of the war in the US. In business circles, where I spend most of my time, it seems to be a taboo. We will spend hours discussing baseball or football strategy but no-one ever brings up the war. Once every few months someone might mention how a friend or a distant relation just got called up, typically a 35 year old with two kids who was cashing checks from the army reserves. These stories usually get sympathetic nods and a “man, it’s fucked up over there, hope he keeps his head down.” But that seems to be about it. In my social circles people are one of three groups – liberals who apparently feel that simply being opposed to the war is sufficient proof of moral virtue that they don’t need to do anything else or pay any more attention to Iraq, conservatives who simply refuse to admit that the war is not going well and are convinced the media is lying anyway, or, like most Americans probably, people who really don’t think about the war very much and don’t care to. It’s easy to ignore since most educated affluent Americans are simply not affected by this war in a significant way. Maybe they read an article in the newspaper every few months about a working class stiff from Pennsylvania who needs prosthetic legs because the Iraqis blew off his good ones, and cluck their tongues in disgust. But that feeling passes quickly and everyday life rushes back in. When it comes to voting the war will not be first in most peoples minds. As always it will come down to tax pledges, the correct stand on gay marriage and who looks better on TV.

  3. MSM news is sold to soap opera women, is why.

    Iraq stopped fitting the soap template when it turned into bad guys vs bad guys, rather than the US as the arrogant father against the helpless innocent children and women.

    Israel has the father role in the soap news now, against the helpless Lebanese.

    The news sells eyeballs to advertisers. Soap opera women are their product, not news.

    Work backwards to the implications for serious policy discussion.

  4. “liberals who apparently feel that simply being opposed to the war is sufficient proof of moral virtue that they don’t need to do anything else”

    In my experience, many liberals have drunk the “We broke it; we bought it” Kool-Aid — they were putatively opposed to the war, but now that it’s happened the US has to stay to make Iraq a better place. When I point out that this means they weren’t really opposed to the war at all they go into hysterics.

  5. You won’t catch anyone saying it’s Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks’ evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring…

    Well, at this point, reporting on the Iraq war is like reporting on the sun rising. It’s pretty much settled into being part of the background noise of existance. News is a basically a report of the unusual or unexpected. How much of what you hear about the war is any kind of “news” at all? SSDD….

  6. liberals who apparently feel that simply being opposed to the war is sufficient proof of moral virtue that they don’t need to do anything else

    Personally, I stopped “doing anything else” about Iraq because I got sick and tired of pro-war patriots accusing me of being a treasonous, Saddam-loving bitch who would probably be willing to personally kill every single American soldier if doing so would discredit the Bush administration. I also got tired of conversations where I’d say something like “I hear things are going pretty badly for Iraq’s civilians” and would be told that I must have just looooooved those rape rooms they had under Saddam, and furthermore the only civilians who are worse off nowadays are the ones who got special privileges under the Baathists.

    In other words, I got sick of people who apparently felt that supporting the war was sufficient proof of moral virtue that no decent person could do anything else.

  7. In my experience, many liberals have drunk the “We broke it; we bought it” Kool-Aid — they were putatively opposed to the war, but now that it’s happened the US has to stay to make Iraq a better place. When I point out that this means they weren’t really opposed to the war at all they go into hysterics.

    Perhaps that’s because your point isn’t logically valid. If we made the situation for Iraqis considerably worse by invading, then you can certainly argue that we have a moral obligation to clean up the mess. That isn’t in any way inconsistent with thinking that not invading at all would be a preferable situation. (cue braying about rape rooms…)

  8. The Iraq war did what it was supposed to do. Got tough guy republicans elected in 2002 and Bush reelected in 2004. But it’s a pretty stale product now. Those support the troops stickers just aren’t shifting like they used to. Poor guys in the chinese sticker factory where they make them might get laid off. Oh well. It’s been good for my energy stocks.

    My brother in law is in the IRR but hasn’t heard a peep about it. We have had discussions about which winsome summer dress he should wear if he’s called up. Floral print seems the way to go to me.

  9. “Perhaps that’s because your point isn’t logically valid. If we made the situation for Iraqis considerably worse by invading, then you can certainly argue that we have a moral obligation to clean up the mess.”

    No, it is logically valid. If you claim to be opposed to X, but then tell the proponent of X that you’ll help out if he proceeds with X, you clearly aren’t against X. In fact, you’re enabling X, because why would the proponent listen your objections if you tacitly acknowledge you’re going to support his ultimate decision either way.

    By way of example, imagine if a friend asked you to help him move his couch and you say, “No, I don’t want to help move your couch, but if it’s too heavy for you I’ll give you a hand.” Now, have you really communicated to your friend that you’re not going to help, or have you merely conditioned your help on a determination that’s solely within his discretion (i.e., whether the couch is “too heavy” for him)?

  10. SR,
    Let’s say your friend decides to re-roof the local convelscent home and asks for your help and you decline to offer it. He proceeds to attempt to re-roof it and discovers he is in way over his head. What are your options? You could help him finish it before the big thunderstorm soaks all the residents or you can stand back while he runs away to avoid taking heat for the job and loosing all credibility in future jobs. Neither one is a good solution, as the proper on would have been to call a pro in the first place.

    In the war, the proper action would have been to sit back and let Iraq be Iraq. Democracy cannot be applied from without, it must well up from within. The US did not do that, despite the cries of anti-war citizens. So, what do we do? We can finish the job we have started and attempt to stabilize the country before the next big thunderstorm of instability arises and causes havok among the citizens or we can run, avoiding the heat but loosing all credibility in future endeavors. Neither one is a good solution, but those are the choices we have.

  11. If you claim to be opposed to X, but then tell the proponent of X that you’ll help out if he proceeds with X, you clearly aren’t against X.

    Er, no. Let’s say there are three possible options:

    1) Not invading Iraq.
    2) Invading Iraq, then leaving it in chaos so hundreds of thousands of people die.
    3) Invading Iraq, then keeping troops around so only tens of thousands of people die (this would be “X”).

    The choice pre-war was between #1 and #3. The people you’re criticizing chose #1 (were “against X”).

    Now #1 is unavailable. The choice is between #2 and #3. Preferring #3 doesn’t mean supporting X all along.

    Best: #1
    Bad: #3
    Worst: #2

    In fact, you’re enabling X, because why would the proponent listen your objections if you tacitly acknowledge you’re going to support his ultimate decision either way.

    Well, there’s some truth to that, but it’s a different point. You can “enable” or make it easier for someone to do a harmful activity while still being against them doing it – in fact, that’s pretty much the definition of “enabling” in a psychological context.

  12. To be precise, the Iraqi war lasted only a matter of a few weeks in 2003.

    The Iraqi occupation, by contrast, has dragged on for years, involves killings based on complex ethnic, sectarian, and tribal/clan shit that few people in America really understand or care about, and lacks a clear resolution. That just might explain a lot of the media and public burnout on the issue.

    The inability to figure out a resolution affects all sides of the debate. GOPers know full well that the occupation becomes a political liability the longer it goes on, but the inevitable bloodbath that will follow the American withdrawal will hit the GOP much harder, as those Dems who are now chanting for withdrawal will conveniently blame the GOP for the results of withdrawing. Conversely, the Dems risk the accusation that they are ‘cut-and-runners’ if they call for withdrawal, but they can’t well offer an alternative, since resolution of the situation without partition or a bloodbath (or both) is possible. Everybody’s going to come out of this looking bad.

  13. that should read “partition or a bloodbath…is NOT possible.” Yeah, I can write…

  14. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else.

    How “clear” is everyone here on American interests in the Israel-Hezbollah war?

  15. I keep having this scary thought: Is this the same way we made the “phase transition” from below three thousand US troops dead in Vietnam–around 1965?–in Iraq now–up to the huge number worthy of a shiny black wall?
    There was a “phase transition” nobody talked about. Still don’t.

  16. Jennifer: “I also got tired of conversations where I’d … be told that I must have just looooooved those rape rooms they had under Saddam…

    Biff: “(cue braying about rape rooms…)

    Jennifer and Biff, you might find this NPR report interesting. It seems the rape rooms have been re-opened under new management.

  17. Two major reasons Iraq has been reduced to background noise in the US:

    1) The American public was never asked to make a single real sacrifice for this war; instead, the Administration gave us bread-and-circuses in the form of tax cuts and ballooning credit markets, while burying the enormous Iraq expenditures in annual “extraordinary appropriations.” People find it very easy to ignore something if they aren’t directly faced with its costs.

    2) Unlike Vietnam, the nation’s young men aren’t being forcibly conscripted to fight this war. As long as the Pentagon can lower recruiting standards, screw National Guard and Reserve servicepeople with extended tours of duty and cannibalize Stateside units to keep Iraq-stationed units up to strength, we’ll never have to look too hard at the human costs, either.

  18. “If you claim to be opposed to X, but then tell the proponent of X that you’ll help out if he proceeds with X, you clearly aren’t against X. In fact, you’re enabling X”

    Somethings you have to make the best out of situations that were forced upon you. That does not mean you have to agree with it.

  19. It seems the rape rooms have been re-opened under new management.

    Let me guess, Jason–you loved Saddam, and when Uday and Qusay were killed you probably spent the whole day in bed just crying your little eyes out, didn’t you? That’s the only possible motivation a person could have for suggesting things aren’t going well under our benign management over there.

  20. I don’t know if this thread is dead or not (if so I’ll post a comment like this in the next Iraq thread). But I wonder: what does everyone think the US government should do now with respect to Iraq?

    I would suggest that they should make some concrete statement of when US troops will witdraw (and they would probably need to work out an agreement with other governments that have troops in the country so they would coordinate their exit plans). I would prefer a timetable but it could also be something like “Once the number of murders in a province goes below 30 per month for 3 consecutive months we will transfer control of that province to Iraqi security forces”.

    If for example the US had a timetable , they could say “Look, if all you want is for the US to leave there is no sense in fighting us anymore because that won’t make us leave a day sooner. The only question is how screwed up your country will be afterwards and it will be less screwed up if you cooperate with us now in fighting terrorists and fanatics”. This would greatly reduce at least one incentive to support or join the insurgency. It might also help open a dialogue with some secular and/or nationalistic armed groups to collaborate with the government against pro-theocracy groups and terrorist organizations (eg. Al-Qaeda in Iraq).

    I heard somewhere that Iraq’s prime minister recently proposed a “National Reconciliation Plan” that originally included a request for a timetable but he was pressured to drop that request by the Bush administration. Does anyone know anything about this?

    I am not an expert on this stuff so I could be wrong. It seems to me though that there is a perception in Iraq that the US government thinks it can do whatever it wants and doesn’t care what happens to innocent Iraqis or Iraq’s soveirgnty(sp?). If that perception exists we need to demonstrate that it is false. We should also make it clear that we don’t intend to establish permanent military bases there against the will of a large majority of that country’s population (as well as our own).

    Does anyone have any insight on this subject? Are there any military experts who can further explain the situation? Am I just talking out of my ass about the timetable or is there something to this?

    Aside: As for the effect of the war on domestic US politics, I think in the 08 presidential election US troops are still in Iraq it will be a major issue. Specificly candidates will be under tremendous political pressure to support either immediate witdrawal or at least some very concrete statement indicating witdrawal in the near future. It won’t make that much difference in the 06 congressional elections because the makeup of congress is unlikely to affect military poliicy with respect to Iraq.

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